Sunday, February 28, 2010

Matt Steinglass beats the Market

and thinks his investment manager is a genius. Matt makes an obvious point that seems completely lost on the GOP,
I invest with one of those Warren Buffett-style “values investor” types. I started putting money into the market in significant amounts back in 2000. Today I took a look at how he’s doing with my money, and I saw that at some point over the past few weeks, my overall stock performance, since I started putting money into the market, had edged into the black. Since 2000, overall, I’m up a bit less than 1%.

In other words, my investment manager is a genius who is beating the market by over 20%. 10 years ago, the S&P was at 1346. It’s down 22.5% in the past decade.

So I’m with Paul Ryan: I think we should take our Social Security funds and start investing them in the financial markets. Right?
Social Security was created after the Stock Market collapse of 1929 as an insurance policy for future generations against collapsing stock markets. The basic social contract is to provide some income in retirement for those who spent their life working hard and contributing to our economy. Every developed country in the world has a form of social security.

Our Social Security was never intended to be the only retirement income for anyone, although for the working poor, it often is there only income.

Social Security is also insurance against ignorance. Remember the thousands of Enron retirees who had invested 100% of their 401(k) in Enron stock only to be whipped out? They all still have Social Security. What would they have if they had been allowed to invest their Social Security savings?

What is the value to society and our economy retirees have income in which to provide for themselves and what would the cost be if they were destitute?

What moral obligation do we have to those who worked a lifetime paying taxes and contributed to our economy?

What would happen to todays retirees who lost 22.5% of their social security savings in the last 10 years?

What would happen to equity markets if they were flooded with hundreds of billions of new dollars each and every year by social security investors?

Would the Republicans running Wall Street banks and investment houses reap huge riches from those hundreds of billions of new dollars pouring into equity markets each and every year? Of course they would and perhaps this is why the GOP advocates destroying social security never mind the best interest of the country or it's working class.

My guess is nothing is lost on the GOP.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The American Takfiris

Adam Serwer, a writing fellow at The American Prospect, filling in for Ta-Nehisi Coates today shines a light on Bush error torture explaining as perfectly as anything I've read what a horrible stain they have placed on our nation.

Forgive the long quote. This is a must read,
The theological justification for al Qaeda's wholesale slaughter of civilians was provided by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, one of the founding fathers of al Qaeda. Because the murder of innocents is forbidden in Islam and the murder of Muslims in particular, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden required some sort of theological framework for justifying terrorism. This was provided by al-Sharif, who essentially argued in his book, "The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge," that apostates could be murdered, and that approach, takfir (which has come to be known as takfirism) allowed al Qaeda to, for all intents and purposes, kill anyone they wanted without violating the laws of Islam by declaring them to be apostates. In other words, Dr. Fadl helped provided a theological justification for something that everyone involved knew was wrong.

The legal memos justifying torture aren't very different in terms of reasoning--it's clear that John Yoo and his cohorts in the Office of Legal Counsel saw their job not as binding the president to the rule of law, but to declare legal any tactic that the executive branch believed necessary to fight terrorism....

The torture memos--indeed, all of the pro-torture arguments rest on a similar intellectual themes to the takfiris. Suspected terrorists are "illegal enemy combatants", outside the framework of laws that would otherwise guide us. Just as the takfiris justify the killing of even self-identified Muslims by excommunicating them as "infidels", torture apologists argue that even American citizens like Jose Padilla who are accused of being terrorists become legal "apostates" without any rights the president is bound to respect. These are extraordinary circumstances, this is an extraordinary war--and so, the Bush administration turned to Yoo, a man who believes the president is bound by no laws during wartime:
There is much more, so again, I commend you to read the whole post. As I told a conservative friend last year, history will condemn Bush administration for their use of torture. Adam concluded "...while those who stained America's honor with war crimes have escaped accountability for now, these American takfiris will eventually be judged by history with a clarity we cannot muster today. The arc of the universe is know, all that stuff."

The DoJ's report on torture

The Atlantic's James Fallows has a must read on the DoJ OPR report,
The report is available as a 10MB, 289-page PDF download here. Seriously, this is a document that informed Americans should be familiar with, as a basis for any future discussion about the costs and consequences of a "global war on terror" and about the maintenance of American "values" in the world.

Through American history, there have been episodes of brutality and abuse that, in hindsight, span a very wide range of moral acceptability. There is no way to "understand" lynchings that makes them other than abominations. But -- to use the extreme case -- America's use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always be the subject of first-order moral debate, about whether any "larger good" (forcing an end to the war) could justify the immediate suffering, the decades-long aftereffects, and the crossing of the "first use" frontier that this decision represented.

My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey's Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era's Hiroshima. As Hersey's book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name -- "our" meaning the citizens of the United States.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stimulus Creates 1.6 to 1.8M Jobs

Firms like IHS Global Insight, and Macroeconomic Advisers exist to provide (sell)independent non-political economic analysis to the private sector that require that information to manage their businesses, make investment and expansion decisions, etc.

David Leonhardt in today's NY Times takes a look at analysis by these firms and Moody's Economy all of whom have called the much maligned stimulus bill a success:
Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.
That this information runs counter-factual to daily media reports speaks volumes about the Obama Administrations abysmal message machine which is Obama's biggest failure of leadership. The President has the bully pulpit which gives him a megaphone the opposition does not have, and yet their meme of "a failed stimulus" carries the day.

Of course, until the economy starts creating jobs on a monthly basis instead of losing jobs, there is a limit to what even the best message machine can do, but still,....

Monday, February 08, 2010

Taking on Anthem Blue Cross

Finally! A insurance company is being called out and forced to justify an absurd rate hike.

Anthem Blue Cross parent Wellpoint's boasted an eightfold increase in Q4 2009 profits to $2.7B and to celebrate they are instituting unprecedented rate increases even as the national economy was contracting. The rate increase in California for many individual insureds was 39% (a friend in St Louis had the same increase) and Health and Human Services has finally had enough.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to Anthem President Leslie Margolin demanding an explanation,
"With so many families already affected by rising costs, I was very disturbed to learn through media accounts that Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise premiums for its California customers by as much as 39%,...."

"These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make healthcare unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy."

"I believe Anthem Blue Cross has a responsibility to provide a detailed justification for these rate increases to the public,"..."Additionally, you should make public information on the percent of your individual market premiums that is used for medical care versus the percent that is used for administrative costs."
Anthem should be used as the poster child for repealing anti-trust exemptions for insurers. Let members of Congress go on the record weeping of the blight of these poor insurers.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Raging Grannies Rip CBS

The South Florida Raging Grannies don't care much for CBS' politics. You need to watch this very funny video.